In the current complex and rapidly changing environment good practice is often out of date before it is written. Our clients no longer want dead good practice. They want live good practice. They want to work with colleagues who are addressing similar issues at the same time so that they can learn together as they go.
Action research provides a framework for doing this in a way that can also capture wider learning for the sector. It enables collaboration in real time between organisations which are addressing a similar issue or task by bringing together peers from those organisations to exchange ideas and experiences, to identify what works well and what works less well.
We have been commissioned by the LGA to facilitate an action research set of chief executives from councils that are merging to create new, larger district councils. The set, which brings together chiefs from six groups of councils, has met four times and is due to meet for a final time in the autumn.
The action research set has provided an opportunity for three types of conversation:
- An exchange of practical lessons and experience, including working with civil servants;
- An exploration of significant issues and themes that have emerged;
- Identifying lessons which could be of value to the wider local government sector.
Three themes which have featured prominently in the discussions include:
- The importance of leap-frogging a focus on merger to concentrate on the creation of a new council covering a different, wider geography;
- The role of members in leading the process across the councils concerned;
- The opportunity presented by the creation of a new council to re-think the role of councillors.
At the time of writing a final session of the set is being planned, a lessons note is being prepared and an event for leaders and deputy leaders is being organised.